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Tasty Chicken Kabobs

Chef's Corner logoThese tender and juicy kabobs are a party appetizer superstar. The key to this succulent chicken recipe is to use boneless thigh fillets (muslos deshuesados) immersed overnight in a sweet, spicy, and lemongrassy marinade.

For 10-12 kabobs

  • 1 kilo of boneless chicken thighs trimmed and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 plump lemongrass stalk, white part only
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil

Chicken grilled on skewers

  1. Place the chicken pieces in a large ziploc bag and blend the remaining ingredients until a smooth paste is formed.
  2. Pour the paste into the bag and mix around to cover entirely.
  3. Place in refrigerator for several hours or preferably overnight.
  4. Thread the morsels on soaked bamboo skewers and grill over low heat turning kabobs regularly to prevent burning.
  5. I usually finish them on a baking sheet in the oven to keep them warm while I prepare the peanut sauce.

For the sauce

  • 1 cup of creamy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small stalk of lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 small red chili pepper, seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/3 cup of soy sauce
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  1. In a small saucepan fry the garlic, lemongrass, and red pepper in the vegetable oil until fragrant.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a slow boil until a smooth sauce is obtained.
  3. Adjust the flavors to your taste with more sugar, salt, pepper, or coconut milk.
  4. Garnish with some chopped peanuts and red pepper.

Fire Chicken with Mozzarella

Chef's Corner logocompleted dishThis is a fun party dish that’s inspired by a Korean recipe named buldak. The spicy grilled chicken is covered with melted mozzarella and served with fresh lettuce leaves. You can replace the “gojujang” chili paste with red curry paste.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb or 500 grams of boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of honey 
  • 1 tablespoon of gojujang or red curry paste
  • 1 chopped chili pepper (optional) 
  • 1 dash of black pepper
  • 3 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of shredded ginger
  • 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Sliced green onion tops and sesame seeds for garnish

Cooked chickenDirections

  1. Marinate the chicken with the first 6 ingredients for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Grill or broil over low heat until done.
  3. Cut into bite size pieces and place in an oven pan, cover with cheese, and broil until cheese is melted and slightly brown.
  4. Garnish with sliced green onions and sesame seeds, enjoy with friends and cold drinks!

Chifrijo

Chef's Corner logoA fantastic way to experience the local flavors of Costa Rica, is with a cold drink and a “boca*” in a typical cantina. This particular boca recipe is said to have originated from a bar in Tibas. It is a tasty layered dip that combines soft and crunchy textures—a perfect foundation for soaking up more cold beverages.

Bocas were traditionally made from whatever offerings were present in the kitchen, and served as little free appetizers. Now they will most likely cost a small amount of colones.

This layered dip combines soft and crunchy textures where the chicharrones (the fried pork can be substituted with shredded chicken) are placed between beans and diced tomatoes. 

Completed ChifrijoIngredients

  • 1 cup of cooked rice
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of cooked red or black beans with liquid
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of diced cooked chicharrones (recipe at the end).
  • 1 whole tomato, diced
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • 1 tablespoon of thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon of lime juice
  • Salt, pepper, hot peppers to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • Fried tortilla chips for scooping

Instructions

Find a medium sized bowl to begin layering:

  1. The warm cooked rice.
  2. The beans with liquid.
  3. The diced chicharrones or shredded chicken.
  4. The diced tomato.
  5. The cubed avocado.
  6. The sliced onion.
  7. Sprinkle with lime juice, salt, pepper, hot peppers, to taste.
  8. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Best enjoyed with crispy tortilla chips

Raw pork bellyCooked chicharronesHomemade chicharrones

I like to start with one kilo of pork belly—panzada

Cook bite-size squares and sprinkle with baking soda. Rest for a few hours or overnight. Rinse off the meat and place into non-stick wok with 2 cups of water. Bring to a slow boil on low flame and cook for 1 hour or until the water has evaporated. Raise the heat slightly and fry the meat until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. You can simply enjoy them with tortillas and squeezed orange-lime juice.

 


Fish Cakes and Prawn Laksa

Chef's Corner logoThis epic Malaysian curried noodle soup will sweep you far, far away…to the balmy streets of Singapore. The flavorful soup base can be made with chicken, seafood, or vegetarian. This one is made with seafood, my favorite.

Serves 6-8

For the fish cakes

  • ½ kg white fish filet (snapper, mahi, sea bass)
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons of Nam Pla or fish sauce (you can use soy sauce too)
  • 2 teaspoons of Thai red curry paste
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • Oil for frying

Shaped fish cakesDirections

  1. Place fish pieces in food processor and pulse with the next 4 ingredients until smooth.
  2. Add the sliced scallions and mix well. White strings can be removed.
  3. Form into small flat patties and fry until golden, like in the photo.

For the stock

  • 1 fish carcass and/or 1 chicken carcass
  • The shells from 1 kg of large shrimp, save the peeled shrimp for the laksa
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only
  • 3 cm knobs of galangal and/or ginger
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves (optional or can be substituted with 2 bay leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons of Nam Pla or fish sauce to taste
  • Salt, pepper
  • 400 ml can of coconut milk

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Bo Bun

Chef's Corner logoThis is my version of a popular take-out salad found only outside of Vietnam (like the chicken chow mein that you’ll never find in China). 

A bowl of rice noodles is topped with strips of grilled beef, lettuce, peanuts, chili peppers, and served with a sweet and tangy fish sauce dressing. This recipe yields 4 to 5 large bowls, the spiciness adjusted to taste and best enjoyed with chopsticks.

For the beef

  • 1 pound or 1/2 kilo of lomito. I recommend using lomito or tenderloin since other cuts might be tough.
  • 5 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of finely sliced lemongrass, white part only (optional but so good)
  • 1 small red onion finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Marinate the beef for at least 4 hours or overnight. Grill the whole piece on all sides so that the center stays medium rare. Allow to cool and thinly slice.

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Tuna Poke Salad with Mango and Avocado

Chef's Corner logoIn this town, we can almost always find the freshest tuna. This colorful salad is so quick and easy; it is a perfect cool lunch dish or a stunning 1st course.

Tuna steakTuna Instructions

Start with a slab of tuna like this in the photo.
Cube about 200 grams or 1/2 pound of the tuna, and toss with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of honey (or brown sugar), and 1 tablespoon of good quality soy sauce.

Salad ingredients

A bed of salad greens
A handful of ripe and flavorful mango cubes
A handful of ripe avocado cubes
A small amount of thinly sliced scallion greens (too much will overpower)
Finished saladToasted sesame seeds
A small amount of Japanese sweet bbq sauce or eel sauce to drizzle for finish ( can be substituted with a mixture of soy and honey)
Sesame oil to drizzle
Sliced red chili (optional)

Salad Instructions

Build the salad by layering the greens, the tuna cubes, mango cubes, avocado cubes.
Drizzle with Japanese sweet sauce or homemade mixture of soy and honey.
Top with sesame seeds and scallions.

The seasonings can be adjusted to taste where the main flavors are from the soy sauce, the honey or brown sugar, and the sesame oil. 


Indo-Chinese Chili Chicken

Chef's Corner logoSometimes nicknamed “Chindu” cuisine, it’s the result of Chinese immigrants in India who adapted their recipes to local flavors and produced some of the happiest accidents of Asian-fusion.

This sauce combines sweet soy, garlic, ginger, and spicy peppers. Ask your butcher for “muslos deshuesados,” or boneless chicken thighs. They will remain juicy and delicious throughout the cooking and reheating of this dish. 

Ingredients for about 6 servings

  • 500 grams of boneless chicken thighs
  • oil for frying
Finished dish

Finished dish

For the batter

  • 3 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of water

For the sauce

  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 3 green onions (scallions) thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper or more to taste
  • 8 to 10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of shredded ginger
  • 1/2 small red or green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of sriracha sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of ketchup
  • 1/2 cup of good quality soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of cold water mixed with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
Chicken in batter before frying

Chicken in batter before frying

Directions

  1. Cut the boneless thighs in 1 inch pieces and prepare batter ingredients.
  2. Coat the chicken as seen in picture.
  3. Fry in batches in a shallow pan with the vegetable oil. Drain on paper towels.
  4. Prepare sauce. Heat oil in a pan and fry the green onion, garlic, bell pepper, ginger, and jalapeno until fragrant.
  5. Add the sriracha ketchup, soy sauce, and sugar.
  6. Add the water/cornstarch mixture and heat until the sauce thickens.
  7. Mix in the fried chicken pieces, garnish with cilantro leaves or sliced green onion tops, serve with rice or noodles.

MUJADERA

Chef's Corner logoThis dish called Mujadara makes me think of a middle eastern version of “gallo pinto.” The caramelized onions are the key and they should cook until they reach the darkest brown without burning. Don’t forget the fun toppings listed below that will add panache to these humble ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of green lentils
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil + 2 tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cracked peppercorns 
  • 3 medium red onions thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup of basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 small knob of ginger (approx 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • A few teaspoons of lime juice to taste

MujaderaDirections

  1. Place lentils in a pot with knob of ginger and cinnamon stick. Cover with water by 1 inch and set to boil. When reaches a boil, lower the temperature so the lentils stay whole and simmer for about 20 minutes. They should be cooked but not mushy. Drain in colander.
  2. Heat 1/2 of oil in a frying pan and add cumin seeds, peppercorns and onions. Cook onions until they are dark brown and some are turning crispy. This may take 10-15 minutes. Season with salt.
  3. Remove half of the onions and save them for the very end.
  4. Wash and drain the basmati rice and fry in the onion-cumin-pepper oil for a few minutes then add 3/4 cups of water and let the rice cook.
  5. To assemble the dish, heat 3 tablespoons of oil, add lentils, ground cumin and ground cinnamon, stir in the cooked rice, and finish by topping with the reserved onions, lime juice and any of the following options.

Options

Chopped nuts such as pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews.
Chopped dried fruit such as apricots or craisins
Chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro, parsley, or dill


Peruvian Aji de Gallina

Chef's Corner logoWe once had a quaint little Peruvian restaurant downtown Quepos where this became my favorite chicken dish.

It is creamy and spicy with an unusual mix of walnuts, Parmesan, and these orange “aji” peppers that can be found in produce markets from time to time. I have also found this “Ajinka” sauce that I highly recommend to anyone who, like me, enjoys collecting hot sauces.

Aji peppers and ajinka sauceFor 8 portions

  • 3 potatoes
  • 2 large whole boneless chicken breasts (4 halves)
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 4 slices of stale baguette (about 1/2 inch slices) or a similar bread
  • 3 to 4 aji peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 black olives, chopped (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 can or 1/2 cup of evaporated milk

Completed dishDirections

  1. Boil potatoes and eggs until cooked. Peel and set aside.
  2. Boil chicken breasts in chicken broth and strain when fully cooked while reserving the stock. Let cool before shredding all of the meat.
  3. Cook the aromatics: onions, garlic, aji peppers in the oilve oil until very fragrant, and then allow to cool. 
    Meanwhile, soak the bread slices in the evaporated milk.
  4. Place cooked aromatics, leftover stock, bread with milk, and walnuts in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
    Return to pan and bring to a slow boil. Stir in the shredded chicken; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper (I prefer white).
  5. Aji de gallina is usually served with a couple wedges of boiled potatoes, a couple wedges of hard boiled eggs, steamed rice and black olives.

Ripe Plantain Empanadas

Chef's Corner logoRipe plantainLiving in paradise means you’re surrounded with exotic fruits such as the plantain. It is also a versatile cooking ingredient that is less sweet and more starchy then its cousin the banana. We know that they are loaded with brain-boosting nutritious benefits such as potassium, vitamins, magnesium, to name a few…

Here is a little a little snack that is both sweet and savory. I’ve adapted it from a Colombian recipe to be gluten free and possibly vegan if the cheese is substituted with beans. 

  1. Finished empanadasFirst you start with a medium ripe plantain.
  2. Peel and boil the plantain for about 20 minutes and allow it to cool.
  3. Drain and mash with a fork.
  4. Add, ¾ cup of corn flour (or masa rica found in stores) and ½ teaspoon of salt.
  5. Mix until you obtain a dry dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.Roll into 8 to 10 little golf ball sizes.
  6. Flatten into circles and place one pinch of shredded cheese (mozzarella is recommended) or one small dollop of refried beans for the vegan option.
  7. Fold over to create a half moon shape, and pinch around the edges to seal.
  8. Fry in cooking oil until golden brown and drain on paper towels.
  9. Sprinkle with a mixture of salt, sugar, and cinnamon and serve.Shaped empanada

Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce (Goong ma kham)

Chef's Corner logoThe compressed fruit pulp of the tamarindus indica tree is available in any produce store. Ask for “tamarindo,” pronounced just like the beach town in Guanacaste, or look for the brown packet as shown in photo.

It is a popular ingredient in south Asian recipes; it has an incomparable blend of sweet and sour best described as a full flavored and complex lime juice. It is packed with anti-oxidants, digestive aids, and vitamins that cover the entire alphabet.

Locally, ticos turn these tasty fruits into refreshing drinks—fresco de tamarindo.

This sauce is excellent with shrimp, fish, or chicken. Crispy garlic and cilantro leaves add the finishing touch that is so popular in Thai dishes.

Tamarind pasteIngredients (4 servings)

  • 1 kilo of medium to large shrimp, peeled and veined (can be replaced by boneless fish or chicken)
  • 1 cup of cornstarch for dredging
  • 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt, pepper, to taste
  • 200 grams or ½ packet of solid tamarind pulp
  • ½ liter of hot water
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • ½ medium size white onion
  • 2 green onions finely sliced
  • ½ small carrot cut into thin julienne strips
  • ½ small red bell pepper (chile dulce rojo) cut into thin julienne strips
  • 1 red hot pepper (optional)
  • ¼ cup of brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of fish sauce (nam pla)
  • Small amount of fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Shrimp in Tamarind SauceDirections

  1. Mix tamarind pulp with hot water so that it becomes loose. Strain with fine sieve. You will need 1/3 cup of the thick liquid, free of seeds and fibers.
  2. Take 5 garlic cloves and thinly slice to deep fry.
  3. Finely chop the other 5 cloves or use a garlic press.
  4. Pour ½ cup of vegetable oil in a small frying pan and fry the garlic slices until they begin to brown. Quickly strain the oil into a larger frying pan with a metal strainer. Be careful because garlic can burn easily.
  5. Dry the shrimp, fish, or chicken before dredging into the cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
  6. Add the rest of the cooking oil to the strained garlic oil to pan fry the shrimp. Fry until golden and set aside on paper towels. Keep warm while making sauce.
  7. In a saucepan, heat a small amount of cooking oil, add the garlic, the carrots, the onions, the green onions, the bell peppers until the vegetables are fragrant. Add tamarind, sugar, and fish sauce.
  8. Pour sauce preparation over the crispy shrimp and garnish with crispy garlic and cilantro leaves. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Thai-Style Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Mint, Basil, and Cilantro

Chef's Corner logo
This is a refreshing salad with contrasting colors and textures. Try adding cooked meats, seafood, or roasted veggies for a perfect lunch bowl, or serve it alongside a composed meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium cucumbers, partially peeled (little spaces between the peeled strips), sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into little half moons
  • 2 medium tomatoes cut into large chunks
  • 1 thinly sliced red hot pepper (optional)
  • A few thin slices of red onion, not too much
  • 1 cup of roughly chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro, basil, and mint
  • 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of Thai fish sauce (soy sauce for vegan)
  • 1 clove of finely minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped peanuts
Thai-Style Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Mint, Basil, and Cilantro

Phot0: Sarah Yunker

Directions

  1. Make dressing by mixing lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, and garlic.
  2. Place cucumber and tomato slices in a bowl, toss with dressing and herbs. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and serve.

Korean Beef Bulgogi and Homemade Kimchi

Chef's Corner logo

If you are able to find a perfect grill, preferably charcoal, don’t hesitate to try these classic Korean culinary delights. The bulgogi meat is sliced thinly and only needs a few hours to marinate. The kimchi is a fun science project to share with kids (and adults) and awaken our foodie curiosity.

Although soy sauce, sesame oil, gojujang paste, ginger and garlic, might not have been readily available in those times, I believe that Gengis Khan and his raiding mongols ate something similar… even the fermented pickled cabbage “kimchi” was essential to their diet. 

Homemade Kimchi

Jar of KimchiIngredients

  • 1 whole Chinese cabbage (mostaza China) washed, and sliced into 1 inch wedges
  • ½ cup sea salt (sal marina)
  • 4 to 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp of minced ginger
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 3 tbsp of water
  • 2 tbsp of Gojujang paste OR 1 tbsp of red chili flakes mixed with 1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
  • 1 peeled small carrot and cut into matchsticks 
  • matchsticks of daikon radish (optional)
  • 3 whole scallions in ½ inch slices

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Sri Lankan Fish Curry

Chef's Corner logo
Hand pounded spices, tamarind juice, coconut milk are the magic ingredients that permeate through this flavorful dish.
Surprisingly quick and easy to prepare, begin with various cuts of fish and elevate them into this sumptuous curry.

Spice Mix Ingredients

  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 cardamon pods, seeded
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon

Place spices in a small frying pan and dry roast until fragrant. Place in mortar and pestle and pound into a coarse powder.

Sri Lankan Fish CurryCurry Ingredients

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1 pinch of chili powder
  • 1 hot chili (optional)
  • 800 grams of skinless firm fish filet e.g. mahi mahi, tuna, corvina, gouper…
  • A thumb-size piece of ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 handful of curry leaves (optional)
  • 2 small or one large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut oil or other
  • 1 medium size tomato, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of tamarind paste
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish

Instructions

  1. Mix lime juice with turmeric and chili powder and marinate the fish pieces, chill and set aside.
  2. Process the ginger, garlic and chilies and fry in coconut oil with the spice mix.
  3. Add onions, curry leaves, tomatoes.
  4. When tomatoes are broken down, add the coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes.
  5. Finally drain the fish pieces and gently poach in the coconut milk until cooked through and flaky.
  6. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Bahn Mi

Chef's Corner logo
First we must thank John Montagu (1718-1792), the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who had the genius idea of encasing cold meats in between two slices of bread so that he didn’t break from the gambling tables for a snack.

Of all the inventive meat-and-bread creations since this historical milestone, the Vietnamese Banh Mi is one of my favorites. Fresh and crusty bread, and the sweet pickled carrots and cucumber (daikon too if available) and cilantro are key, the rest can vary according to taste.

This recipe is the authentic street vendor version.

For the bread

About 9 inches of fresh French baguette cut lengthwise leaving both halves still attached. 

For the pickle

  • ¾ cup of shredded carrots
  • ¾ cup of thinly sliced, peeled and seeded cucumber
  • ½ cup shredded daikon, if available
  • 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt

Mix all of the above and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, drain before using.
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